August 20, 2022
Enlarge / A few of Insomniac’s biggest franchises.

Ratchet & Clank and Spider-Man developer Insomniac Games has made a $50,000 donation to the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRRAP), and its parent company, Sony, will reportedly match that number. But those donations come amid public silence from both companies on the contentious issue and reports of internal drama surrounding a response to the Supreme Court’s reported efforts to overturn 1973’s Roe v. Wade precedent.

Last week, Bloomberg reported that PlayStation President Jim Ryan sent an email to staffers urging them “to respect differences of opinion among everyone in our internal and external communities” on issues such as abortion rights. “Respect does not equal agreement. But it is fundamental to who we are as a company and as a valued global brand,” Ryan reportedly continued.

That same email went on to share a more “lighthearted” and detailed story about Ryan’s cats’ birthdays, according to Bloomberg, a tonal disconnect that rubbed some employees the wrong way.

Following Ryan’s message to employees, The Washington Post reports that Insomniac CEO Ted Price sent an email to studio employees last Friday outlining the corporate donations to WRRAP. Sony will also match employee donations made through its internal charity portal and plans to reimburse employees who may need to leave the state to obtain abortion services, according to the report.

But Price’s email also reportedly detailed how Sony “will not approve ANY statements from any studio on the topic of reproductive rights.” That’s despite Insomniac sending nearly 60 pages of employee messages to PlayStation Studios head Hermen Hulst asking the company to “do better by employees who are directly affected” by any pending abortion decision. “We fought hard for this and we did not win,” Price wrote.

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Price went on to address the sometimes awkward parent-child corporate relationship that has developed since Sony acquired Insomniac in 2019. “As far as our freedom of speech goes, while we do have a LOT of autonomy that often gets taken for granted, there are times where we need to acknowledge we’re part of a larger organization,” Price reportedly wrote. “For the most part, our ability to tweet has been unfettered. However, there are rare times when we’re in opposition (like this week) and [Sony] will have the final say.”

A wall of silence

Insomniac’s apparent forced public silence on this issue comes weeks after Bungie became one of a few companies to speak out in support of abortion rights. “Standing up for reproductive choice and liberty is not a difficult decision to make, and Bungie remains dedicated to upholding these values,” the company said.

Psychonauts developer (and Microsoft subsidiary) Double Fine and Guild Wars developer ArenaNet tweeted out similarly supportive statements in the days following Bungie’s move.

Activision put out a more neutrally worded statement regarding abortion rights last week, saying the company is “committed to an inclusive environment that is supportive of all of our employees” and that it “will closely monitor developments in the coming weeks and months.” Microsoft also said last week that it would “continue to do everything we can under the law to protect our employees’ rights and support employees” and pledged to pay for employee travel costs related to out-of-state abortion services.

But even limited public statements like those stand out as exceptions in the video game industry. The Washington Post found that 18 of 20 “major video game companies” it contacted about the issue did not respond to a request for comment.

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Those companies may be receiving advice recommending them to stay away from the issue. The Popular Information newsletter recently reported on an email from major PR firm Zeno urging companies not to “take a stance you cannot reverse” on “subjects that divide the country.” On issues like abortion, Zeno wrote, “regardless of what [companies] do, they will alienate at least 15 to 30 percent of their stakeholders… do not assume that all of your employees, customers or investors share your view.”